Google casually distributed examples from a project called Cardboard to attendees of its Google I/O conference in the summer. The handout was a pair of cardboard virtual and augmented reality goggles to be assembled by the user. Then, after downloading a free app, the user's smartphone could be inserted into the cardboard headset, creating convincing virtual reality that used the phone's screen, motion sensors, speakers and other features — including, potentially, the camera for augmented reality or some combination of virtual and augmented reality.
Because Cardboard is an open-source project, many other companies have offered kits for sale at a variety of prices starting at $6.99.
The core idea behind Cardboard is the use of the smartphone you already own as the screen, computer, speaker and sensors of the virtual or augmented reality experience. Note that smartphones have a screen on the front and a camera on the back, which is perfect for virtual reality, augmented reality or a mashup of the two. It just depends on the software.
Since Google's handout, other companies have announced goggles based on the same concept. New entrants include Samsung, Archos and even camera lens maker Carl Zeiss, at various levels of sophistication, power and price.
Everybody's talking about virtual reality and augmented reality, both of which are on the brink of going mainstream.
But the real story is the incredible blurring of the lines between the two, and the many mashups and variations and options that are in the works.
Ultimately, virtual reality and augmented reality are the same thing, or nearly so. They're about to become available, to all of us, and it's going to be far cooler than we ever imagined.
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